Commentary

Wondir Where To Find Answers?

The utility of Internet search has reached unprecedented levels, but you know people still crave more sophistication and relevancy when there are sites like Can't Find On Google (www.cantfindongoogle.com), driven by people who just can't find answers to their more complex searches.

The big search companies seem to agree, and some of their latest enhancements emphasize such qualities as community-based sharing, tagging, personalization, and new algorithms to go along.

These are welcomed attempts to improve search, and marketers must monitor consumer adoption patterns. When relevance and results become more individualized and influenced by people, the protocol for marketing brands in the realm of search will change. The intersection of search, social networks, and user-generated content appears to be growing.

Among the services further along the social spectrum is a search-like newcomer called Wondir (www.wondir.com), which bills itself as a "free, live question-and-answer engine that connects people with questions to people with answers." Operating with a sponsored-search business model, this hybrid site integrates search, instant messaging, e-mail, database, categorization, browsing, reputation systems, and push-and-pull technologies to uncover answers and initiate communication.

Wondir has existed a few years in beta mode, but it recently launched commercially as a destination as well as a licensable platform for other publishers. Its presence may seem discreet and its adoption is still niche, but its market share of U.S. Internet visits is up 400 percent in June 2005 versus year-ago, according to Hitwise (which I consult for).

While Wondir is its own breed, I wonder how its application might collide over time with mainstream search engines as well as traditional online community forums. Perhaps a more appropriate question is how its model might influence the evolution of those two areas. Regardless, this is a social-search phenomenon worth keeping an eye on.

So what makes Wondir tick? I was fortunate to have met some of the company's executives at the recent Supernova conference, and have talked further with Matthew Koll, Ph.D., CEO, chairman and founder. Dr. Koll also was founder and CEO of Personal Library Software, which was later sold to America Online in 1998.

Here are key excerpts from our conversation:

Kalehoff: So what's the goal of Wondir?

Koll: What we're trying to do is unite the world into a very fast question-and-answer capability. Our vision is that if we had millions of people connected by the various communications mechanisms we use, when a question comes into your head, there might be a person in the world who can help you. The idea of people interacting and exchanging knowledge has not benefitted from the speed enhancements that searching has. But if you can take that dynamic and make it behave like search, then you can achieve the benefits of search: ease-of-use, immediate results, and a proven business model. We're bridging the gap between search engines and the sort of slower community interaction that existed in the past.

Kalehoff: So what drives people to use Wondir?

Koll: One of the biggest problems with search is all the stuff you have to do before you ask your question. For example, where do you want to go to ask a particular question? Or, how do you map your question into the language of the search engine? And of course the information you are looking for has to be there, it must be indexed.

People come to Wondir because they understand it's an easy way to get useful help from other people, including advice, opinion, the benefit from what's in someone else's head. It's a spontaneous way to tap into the wisdom of the crowds. We don't want people to think a lot before they ask. We want them to ask, then decide what kind of answer they need -- be it a peer, an expert, or a reference. The end result is that people are asking very long, interesting questions.

Kalehoff: What is the Wondir user experience?

Koll: You ask a question, and while looking at immediate results, someone may IM you with a live, new response. We capture the answers and build up a knowledge base that way. Over time, more and more people can be served by seeing the answers that other people got to similar questions. There are over 100,000 different people who have answered questions on Wondir, and about 40 percent of questions get a fresh response from another member within 10 minutes. We're closing in on 2 million questions and answers, each.

Kalehoff: What drives people to answer questions?

Koll: The primary reason seems to be that people have a desire to help other people and share what they know. We continue to get more answers than questions every day -- the ratio is nine to seven.

Another reason is affiliation with organizations that want to reach out and be heard, which is fine, so long as there's transparency. In terms of companies trying to keep track of their public perception, for example, they can create an alert on Wondir to identify when any keywords are mentioned in questions. You can then catch those people in instant message and interject within the community.

Kalehoff: Doesn't Wondir ultimately compete with general search engines?

Koll: Search is an important part of Wondir because we want to give you a helpful results page, but we're not trying to compete with general search engines. Our focus is on questions that are best answered by a response from another person. We do want to provide a fast, good experience for everyone, so we do incorporate automated question-answering as well as meta search.

Kalehoff: What will Wondir look like in two years?

Koll: As the community grows we should see greater breadth, depth, and quality in the answers. More people connected should also mean even faster responses. We like to produce helpful and instant responses on virtually any subject. We'd like people to think of Wondir as the service to use when you wonder, "Is there anyone out there that can help me with this question?"

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